Universe

28 minutes

The physarum experiments

5 minutes

Kierkegaard’s horror of doubt

7 minutes

Is our attention for sale?

4 minutes

Art in public places

28 minutes

Prelude to the space age – the 1960 film that inspired ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

‘Until a generation ago, it seemed indecipherable…’

In 1960, humanity was on the cusp of achieving something momentous. After centuries of stargazing – and two decades of flying some airplanes very high – our species was finally preparing to blast through Earth’s atmosphere. The first manned space flights launched in 1961, and the first probe to fly by another planet – Mariner 2 – reached Venus in 1962. The extraordinary film Universe (1960) presents scientists’ grasp of our solar system, and the cosmos beyond, just before we took flight. From the vantage of today, much of the information is outdated – it’s no longer ‘reasonably certain’ that there’s vegetation on Mars, for instance. But the film provides remarkable insights into how far science and space exploration have taken us in just two generations, while serving as a reminder that paradigms will inevitably continue to shift in the decades to come. Beyond its history-of-science appeal, Universe also altered the course of cinema’s evolution: the film’s masterful cinematography and groundbreaking animation inspired Stanley Kubrick when he was researching his own space-traversing masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Kubrick even borrowed the voice of Universe’s narrator, Douglas Rain, for the iconic role of HAL 9000.

Directors: Roman Kroitor, Colin Low

Website: National Film Board of Canada

Creeping through mazes, repelling adversaries – the slow-motion smarts of slime moulds

To the naked eye, the organism Physarum polycephalum – commonly referred to as ‘slime mould’ – might seem an unexceptional creature, despite its bright-yellow glow, as its acellular existence is dedicated to tracking nutrients at a speed of 1mm per hour. But this protist’s surprising computational cunning becomes apparent when viewed in time-lapse, revealing a life form that seems to possess intelligence despite lacking a nervous system. Between 2009 and 2018, the UK artist and researcher Heather Barnett conducted a series of clever experiments in which she probed slime moulds’ capacities for forming complex tube networks and adjusting to obstacles. For this short film, Aeon Video compiled Barnett’s ‘creative collaborations’ with P polycephalum into a montage that builds in complexity, emphasising the slime moulds’ surprisingly sophisticated capacities for problem-solving.

Director: Heather Barnett

Sound designer: Graham Barton

Editor: Tamur Qutab

Want to think for yourself? Start with an agonising state of doubt, says Kierkegaard

Influenced by Socrates’ sense of irony, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) came to believe that a state of doubt – disorienting and horrifying as it could sometimes be – was the cornerstone of a sound philosophical practice. This scepticism of objective truth and ardent belief in thinking for oneself is omnipresent in his pseudonymous works, in which his assumed names sometimes even spar with one another. While amusing, the peculiar literary device also undercuts any sense that the works were written by a voice of authority. In this video from the London Review of Books, the British philosopher and historian Jonathan Rée traces the theme of doubt in Kierkegaard’s life and work using his unfinished, posthumously published novel Johannes Climacus: Or a Life of Doubt as a starting point.

Video by the London Review of Books

Producer: Anthony Wilks

A handful of executives control the ‘attention economy’. Time for attentive resistance

From fitness tracking devices to search engines, it’s easy to think of personalised technologies as convenient shortcuts and useful tools for working towards goals. But, argues James Williams, a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute and a former Google employee, the primary aim of personalised tech is to keep users coming back by any means necessary – and often in a way that encourages empty distraction. In this brief animation featuring audio from a 2017 lecture at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) in London, Williams makes the case that the consolidation of the ‘attention economy’ to just a handful of companies is an unprecedented and deeply fraught human experiment – and one that demands active, attentive resistance.

Video by the RSA

Director: Olga Makarchuk

A guided tour of New York’s public art in 1973, in all its charms and contradictions

‘The streets and parks of Manhattan are really a great place to explore what happens to art, and what happens to us, when art steps out from behind the velvet rope … and stands each day in the public eye.’

As evidenced by the increasingly contentious debate over public art, those pieces that a society chooses to exhibit and celebrate in its shared spaces say a lot about its tastes, values and power structures. Released in 1973, the film Art in Public Places is at once a time capsule of its own and a rich window into centuries of New York’s history. Produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the film provides a meditative tour of Manhattan’s eclectic displays of public art, expertly guided by the US painter and writer Russell Connor. Spanning the works of artists famous and forgotten, and pieces both improvised and years-in-the-making, the US director Fred Barzyk captures New York’s public displays in all their eclecticism, charms and contradictions.

Director: Fred Barzyk

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Prelude to the space age – the 1960 film that inspired ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

‘Until a generation ago, it seemed indecipherable…’

In 1960, humanity was on the cusp of achieving something momentous. After centuries of stargazing – and two decades of flying some airplanes very high – our species was finally preparing to blast through Earth’s atmosphere. The first manned space flights launched in 1961, and the first probe to fly by another planet – Mariner 2 – reached Venus in 1962. The extraordinary film Universe (1960) presents scientists’ grasp of our solar system, and the cosmos beyond, just before we took flight. From the vantage of today, much of the information is outdated – it’s no longer ‘reasonably certain’ that there’s vegetation on Mars, for instance. But the film provides remarkable insights into how far science and space exploration have taken us in just two generations, while serving as a reminder that paradigms will inevitably continue to shift in the decades to come. Beyond its history-of-science appeal, Universe also altered the course of cinema’s evolution: the film’s masterful cinematography and groundbreaking animation inspired Stanley Kubrick when he was researching his own space-traversing masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Kubrick even borrowed the voice of Universe’s narrator, Douglas Rain, for the iconic role of HAL 9000.

Directors: Roman Kroitor, Colin Low

Website: National Film Board of Canada

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